A Journey of Consciousness

I have been thinking a lot about happiness and longevity lately. Probably because of my knee and facing surgery and downtime.

I have an internal struggle with myself that pulls in two different directions. On the one side I have an unwavering desire for greatness (what greatness is I have not defined). On the other side I have the knowledge that happiness doesn’t necessarily come from being the “best”, but rather from ones own “higher game” as we’ve come to call it.

All of this causes internal conflict. Naturally, I want to be the best. I want to push myself. I want to do things better and beyond what others do. This has its pros and cons. On the one hand I am rewarded by the hard work with money, success, pride, and all that comes with it. On the other hand “burning hot” results in sacrifices to my body, health, family, and who knows what else.

The trick, it seems, is to find a healthy balance between longevity and personal challenge. Letting go of those things that hurt more than help.

For Example

For example, today I went to dinner with my neighbor who does Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. He invited the gym guys over to watch the UFC fights. During conversation I learned that he has had two knee surgeries (the same knee surgery I will have) and currently has one knee that needs to be re-operated.

Frankly, he is in top physical shape. He is a 6′ 2″ and 200 lbs with hardly an ounce of fat. On the other hand – do I really want to be a 40 year old man with two knee surgeries under my belt and with aches and pains? What will that be like at 60?

All of the guys there seemed like good dudes with great attitudes and in great shape. Which is common in the BJJ community. As I move through this journey I want to take the best parts of this philosophy and keep it – while losing the bad parts.

Alternatives

I think I am approaching a time in my life where I need to consider a shift in my way of thinking and approach to overall health, happiness, and longevity – all without becoming luke warm or losing passion.

One of the things I’ve been thinking about is changing my workout routine and diet (which are both already pretty strict). Right now I’m too rough on my body and I could have better discipline with my diet. Going forward I want to switch to lower impact high result workouts. Focus on flexibility, strength and conditioning, eating fresh foods, and making sure I enjoy it. (All of this I’d like to discuss in more detail in later posts.

Similarly, I want to boost my efforts on learning, culture, and relationships.

Pride, Ego, Spirituality, and Learning

I want to expand my mind and lose pride and ego. I think my pride and ego sometimes get in the way of doing what I really want. By that I mean that I want to do less of what is expected by society and more of what I truly want to do. Typically, I have been pretty good at doing that, but I want to double down on my efforts here.

I want to stop caring so much about “things” and find what really makes me happy and dedicate my life to it. I want to focus on being content while also striving to expand my personal philosophy.

And I don’t mean by just being a minimalist, but I mean by truly being content. I want to focus on little things more and derive pleasure from them without rushing through or skipping. For example, when I made coffee today I focused on each step (grounding the coffee beans, spooning the grinds into the coffee maker, the smells, the appearance) and enjoyed it as much as the beverage itself. I want to expand this methodology into all aspects of life.

I’ve already started this journey mentally. Reading books about great men and various philosophies. I hope to stumble upon a few people and philosophies that I truly admire and relate to then at that point take a deeper dive into those schools of thought.

I wan to be conscious. And my journey beings now.

Thoughts on Brotherhood and Friendship

For about a month now I’ve been consciously meditating. I don’t really meditate the way you might imagine though. Sometimes meditation happens on a spin bike in my garage. A few songs go by, I get warm and I set into deep quad work. Heavy, repetitive music thumps in my ears, I clamp my eyes shut tight and my mind wonders as my legs begin to resemble two large pieces of oak a blaze over a camp fire…

Other times meditation in fact happens around a fire. I recently bought a fire pit for my back patio, and I find myself lighting fires almost nightly over the last couple weeks, sitting for extended periods of time staring deep into the coals, long after my wife and kids have grown tired of roasting marshmallows and the cold became too much for them.

And finally, meditation happens early in the mornings, over coffee. I open the bay windows in my kitchen and stare into the dark, watching streaks of sunlight and they gradually bathe over the tops of the trees. That was my experience this morning… coffee and sunlight.

My meditation this morning took me to brotherhood…

Atty’s post about our jogs, coffee time together and the “iphone” generation a few days ago made a huge impression on me. I’ve thought deeply on it and its implications quite extensively now. I have rolled this idea over in my mind like a stone made smooth by water rapids in a river bed, this important idea of the “long game” and putting in the time to really form something great in your life. It does take time and effort to create anything great- be that a nice piece of furniture, an awe inspiring oil painting, or a friendship.

There are basic tenants that are most important to forming the type of friendship that becomes more a work of art than a relationship over time. It requires deep trust and honesty, but also quite a bit of courage.

Atty and I cross the lines with each other sometimes. Sometimes we say and do things that we probably don’t realize might hurt or offend the other. Where we excel is having the trust, honesty and most of all, courage to speak up. Wounds are not allowed to form and fester between us.

Further, this friendship takes courage as you are forced to defend it time and time again. I don’t know whether or not Atty has had to defend his friendship with me, but mine has been under attack more than a few times. My own wife, my mother, and other past friends I have since let go have all outright attacked my friendship with Atticus.

I get the impression that it offends them. I suspect that they feel jealous of this bond I have formed with Atty that I have not formed with them.

Further, I think it bothers them that I will defend it so quietly yet vehemently. In the case of my wife, I see that it troubles her. I think she hurts that she has destroyed these bonds not only with me, but with most of the people around her, yet my bonds grow stronger than ever.

I think both my wife and my mother are troubled because they suspect that perhaps deep inside, I love this man more than either of them.

Maybe I do. I certainly trust him more than either of them.

Atticus and my friendship are not perfect and neither of us are. No person is perfect and expecting that anyone will never let you down is a serious miscalculation. People will always let you down sometime or other. The key is having the courage to face and admit it when you do.

There are other important elements, such as learning to not covet the possessions, talents and other things your best friend has. Learning to accept each other’s negatives while celebrating their strengths, and so forth. But I do think at the core, courage and trust are the two most important elements.

Cheers.

-Holden

A Christmas Testimony

I’ve wrote pretty extensively about my marital problems of late. Unfortunately, what I share on this blog is only the tip of a larger iceberg, but somehow I’ve seemingly changed the course of what I thought was the Titanic on an irreversible path with the iceberg called divorce.

Over the course of the last month I’ve gone through some outright peculiar emotional trials and tribulations. In the midst of perhaps some of the greatest pain I have ever felt in my life, I have walked away not unscathed, not without harm, not without emotional scarring, but definitely a stronger, mature man.

As I’ve confided in some of my closest friends and allies, I’ve been filled with encouragement and love. I owe my friends everything I could ever possibly offer. I am one of the wealthiest men in the universe because I am so rich in love and friendship from so many.

Still, all the love and encouragement in the world would mean nothing without meaningful change. Only, I didn’t change because I wanted to. I changed because I had to, or I quite possibly might have lost my mind, freedom, or worse, my life.

My wife, the person who was supposed to be the closest person to me in my entire life, but who I had admittedly neglected for so long through anger, mismanagement of emotions, and simple immaturity had waged nuclear warfare on not only me, but my entire family.

This person, who I still love more deeply than perhaps anything else on Earth, and in fact more than ever now that we have walked through these trials together, drove me to extreme desires and plans that I don’t care to share or admit out of deep shame.

To be frank. I nearly lost my shit and I didn’t care how many people’s lives I was to destroy in the process of losing it. My goal was to become a kamikaze hell bent on not only destroying my life, her life and the life of her lover, but also the life of my children and her lover’s children by extension.

Then something happened.

One day I woke up and I wasn’t mad anymore. I’d love to say that I was brought back from the brink by friends, family, counseling, medication, meditation, exercise… whatever! But that wouldn’t be true. Yes, those are all tools I have utilized, and they continue to help me on my journey, but I promise you, they are not what stopped me from doing things I would not ever be able to take back.

I’m not going to lecture you today, on Christmas of all days, about the power of God, or tell you to go to church or tell you to pray. I’m just going to say, I said a prayer out of extreme desperation and I woke up the next day calm and collected and ready to own my problems.

I listen to a lot of “religious” people who frankly, I think are delusional and perhaps even mentally ill. Others I see as great manipulators and control freaks. And others, I may even simply view as small minded, uneducated and ignorant.

For me, my personal experience with God is just that. It is personal. Sometimes as I mediate or workout, my mind drifts and I wonder if I didn’t create these ideas as a crutch to deal with my problems. I wonder if a lot of the things that have seemingly happened to me aren’t coincidence or maybe I am simply connecting the dots in such a way that makes it convenient for me to attribute it to God or Jesus or whatever.

In fact, I can’t even believe I write or feel this today. Me, a well educated, worldly man who has experienced and seen so much, met so many people of different faiths, studied history and is so well aware of the dangers of religion- writing about God.

But I do attribute my happiness and well being today to God and especially the people he has put in my path. I am but a single man floating around on a rock which circles a star at a thousand miles per hour, in a galaxy that is yet just a small satellite itself in a sea of other galaxies, in a universe too enigmatic and expansive for me to ever dream of comprehending…  I’ve decided writing off God is arrogant.

So, take that as you will. That is my testimony. I am not ashamed and I feel no need to defend it or prove anything to anyone.

Merry Christmas.

-Holden

iPhone Generation and The Long Game

Run 4.2 miles. Immediately following Holden and I get coffee at the local coffee house that is a half mile walk from my house. We don’t buy anything fancy, just a strong cup of coffee. It cost $2.00 even.

The coffee shop is  trendy (call it hipster-esque) with local art hanging on the walls, a starry night themed study room, and a barrister with a handle-bar mustache. One painting always makes me shake my head because it looks like a beautiful painting of a young girl that someone scribbled over top with purple crayon. Art.

My community is a pretty interesting mix. There are lesbian couples, a mysterious guy in great shape that curls rocks in his front yard, a few veterans, accountants, religious, atheists, old people, and young. There are antebellum homes, American flags, and an art/farmers market every weekend.

Holden and I sit in the trendy little coffee shop – mostly empty on a rainy morning. We still have our workout clothes on and talk a little too loudly for a near-empty coffee house. We feel free to speak our mind and pay no attention to the patrons at the next table. They pay no attention to us either.

These are my favorite kind of mornings. Holden and I chat and boost each other’s ego then laugh about it. Casually praising the other, but in a natural and healthy sort of way. We talk about personal growth, family, travel, and life. Our talks are, in many ways, an extension of this blog.

Even as we finish our coffee I enjoy the thought of the half mile walk back to my house.

Holden and I have been friends for nearly a decade. We have traveled to the third world, helped each other through relationship problems, and personal growth. In fact, this is the longest friendship I’ve had to date (I’m 27). It has taken a lot of work for both of us, but like any craftsman, the result (and journey) has been worth the effort.

Which brings me to my point:

I want to teach my daughter (and anyone else who will listen) the value of time well spent. I feel like most people want instant gratification. Holden and I call it the “iPhone generation” (a term we coined over coffee). The value of the “long game” (also coined over coffee) has been lost.

Everything I value in life was developed over years and decades. None of it was given to me. And everything I worked for and continue to work for I appreciate on a different level than those things that were handed to me. It is a unique type of appreciation that is only privy to those who have the experience of having done it. (Which is also why I’m beginning to realize the value of experience and age.)

It’s like reading a good book rather than watching the movie. It took a few days or weeks to get through the book. You spent time with it, developed a relationship with it. You can watch 6 movies in a day on Netflix and forget which before you go to bed. The “long game” is a good book.

These are the differences between sitting in a coffee shop talking about life with your best friend and liking a photo on Facebook.

The Value of Time Alone

For the past five years I have spent time writing everyday. A lot of that writing happens here on this blog and a lot of it happens in a personal journal I keep on a bookshelf at home. My journal is a small black leather bound notebook I bought for myself a few years back. I’ve since filled two or three of these little notebooks and always purchased the same one.

About a year ago I wrote in my journal that I was concerned that my wife and I were not communicating enough. I wrote down the reasons I thought we didn’t communicate and the places in life we were missing the opportunity to have an intimate conversation.

I remember writing in my journal:

“We sit in front of the TV at dinner and we play on our phones before bed. We don’t try to ignore each other, but after a few shows it’s suddenly time for bed. We check our emails then go to sleep. I wonder what she’s thinking…maybe nothing…I’m pretty much brain dead the whole time. We should talk more.”

After that my wife and I decided to have “No tech” dinners and evenings. Instead we sit around and talk, clean the house together, cook, and eat dinner. Just opening up a couple of hours to communicate with each other made a positive difference in our relationship.

It is interesting how small changes in your daily habits can change your life. All because of little time alone with myself.

The Right Side of History on Torture

I’ve said a lot of things on this blog. Some of which I was dead wrong about and some of which I was right on the money.

I was right about torture and “enhanced interrogation” when I wrote about it three years ago: Every Intellectually Honest American Should Agree: Stop Torture and I think it is worth another read.

Here is a great thread about the latest declassified CIA documents on torture (including the fact that it doesn’t work) on reddit.

The State of the Media

There is a lot going on right now. ISIS, Ebola, Russia, Ferguson, Roits (or protests depending on your view), the militarization of the policy, racism, the list goes on.

Had this been a year or two ago, when I was fired up about politics, I would have a lot to say on the matter. But these days I find myself more and more disinterested in the things that they try to sell us on the television.

I feel like these incidents live and die with each news cycle, with a few twitter hastags, a viral video or two, then they’re gone. Sometimes they come back if the news cycle is slow – other times we never hear another thing about it.

Propaganda, Divide and Conquer

The news is disheartening to me these days. Not because there aren’t interesting things to dissect, but rather because there are too few people actually trying to dissect it. Pretty much everyone takes what they see on TV at face value and regurgitates the standard talking points – dependent upon their perspective political, racial, of social leanings. The truth, more often than not, goes unseen.

I just feel like someone is always pushing an agenda rather than reporting the news. To me, there shouldn’t be such a disparity between MSNBC and Fox News. When did it become acceptable to blatantly support a political party, and moreover, report the news that way? When the media starts pushing an agenda news immediately becomes propaganda – and propaganda is dangerous.

I guess I just want people to at least watch news in that light. With an understanding that everything we see is about an ideological agenda. There is no reporting. All we have now is organizations who are paid to entertain the masses, increase ad revenue, manufacture drama to the highest magnitude possible, and ensure that their listeners have to pick a side.

None of this can be healthy for the country.

I don’t believe in God. Should I attend Church for the benefits?

I am not a religious person. I don’t see any evidence that leads me to believe in God as described in the Bible. There are just too many things that don’t add up, too many things that I would have to consciously ignore, and I can’t do that.

My wife on the other hand enjoys the comforts of religion. I think part of her sees me as arrogant and foolish for ignoring that God exists. She’s no fool. She see’s the holes in the Bible as well as I do, but for her she feels it. My wife is an emotional creature driven by what feels right. She’s sensitive, artistic, and loving – all of this is why I married her. And part of me knows that church, the community, and the comfort would be good for her (and our relationship).

I don’t consider myself an Atheist though. I think to be an Atheist you have to be confident enough to say there is no God. I am not that confident. I admit the possibility of some higher being, a creative force, perhaps intelligent, perhaps (and more likely) something beyond our understanding – beyond out ability as humans to sense or perceive it. If there is a higher power I doubt (s)he has anything to do with our lives and unlike my wife – I don’t find much comfort in the idea (or going to church).

For the last 10 years I have been stubborn about attending church and sometimes about religion itself. When I attend church I see a bunch of hypocrites. I see a bunch of people who “believe” in a God, who has established these strict rules, but doesn’t follow any of them. I hate the idea of cherry-picking the parts of the Bible that are convenient. These are some of the things that bother me.

At Church there is an expectation that I believe and celebrate the God as described in the Bible. I see people around me praising God, raising their arms in the air as if praising the God of Thunder, and I feel like a hypocrite – like an idiot participating in it. I feel like a hypocrite for being in church and to myself for spending time (wasting time?) in a place when I could be doing something more productive.

I also know that focusing too much on your “feelings” is no way to make decisions. The reasonable part of myself knows there are two sides of this Church-equation so I break it down into pros and cons: Should I attend Church?

Pros:

1. This is a good community and support group for my Wife (and me).
2. There are a lot of good people in Church (great networking opportunity).
3. Churches provide many good resources (child care, athletic facilities, community).
4. Being known and liked by a large group could be beneficial politically and financially.

Cons:

1. My wife and child may rely on something that is not real. How will this affect their decision making? Is it healthy?
2. I will have to compromise my beliefs.
3. Church would mean a large time commitment each week.
4. The implications of exposing my family to a largely fictional belief system.

When I examine the costs and benefits of going to Church I find that it would probably be a net benefit to attend. I would gain connections, my wife would have a sense of emotional comfort and moral compass that she craves, there would be numerous social and economic gains, and my family would be surrounded by a group of positive and well connected individuals.

The down side is that I would have to accept that I am going to church for non-religious reasons. I also worry about what I am doing to my family. Is it evil to expose my family to a lie even if that lie is a net positive in their lives? Do the positive result justify the philosophical negatives?

What if I am honest with my daughter and wife? I explain that church is a positive social organization, but they should be critical of the teachings? Can you enjoy the benefits of church and ignore the teachings? Can you separate the fiction from the good lessons? I suppose you can – everyone has read Harry Potter, right?

If I made positive relationships, did good for the community, and used this new resource as an overall benefit to society would I still be an impostor? Would I be a hypocrite? Would I be wrong for doing so?

I guess the problem with being an ideological purist is that it doesn’t leave a lot of room for pragmatism. I’m not an ideological purist (I wouldn’t know which ideology to be pure about), but I’m also not a manipulator or liar. So what should I do?

Cornerstone

As a youngster I remember my great uncle. I still see his face now. Clean shaved with a shadow of beard that he can never fully rid himself. He has deep wrinkles from a calm smile that never totally leaves his face. I remember the sincerity in his voice that always struck me.

“Papa” on my wife’s side of the family was the same type of man. Though he died years before my wife and I became a couple not a holiday goes by that I do not hear fond stories about Papa’s role in their lives.

On Thanksgiving day 2014 -at age 27 and my house full of family – after my mother-in-law and aunt-in-law hugged me and thanked me for “taking care of the family”, my nephews asked how to be successful, and my father-in-law asked for advice – I realized I had become a Cornerstone too.

For me, there are more questions than answers about this journey. About the type of man I want to be. How to do what’s right. What is right anyway? And how to lead.

I think conscious effort is a good first step. Here I am.

Live That Way

At least three times a week I run 5 miles. I live in a historic area of Atlanta, GA so the scenery is quite charming. The path is full of historic homes from the early 1900s and the occasional plantation home – now surrounded by urban development instead of farmland.

My run happens in stages.

For the first mile my brain is disconnected. This is the most congested part of my run. I focus on avoiding traffic, crossing intersections, a train track, and clearing my mind.

Miles 2-5 are where the magic happens. I’m in the zone. My mind drills deep into itself. My thoughts follow through no particular path, create hypothetical situations, and eventually lands in some place I find enjoyable or helpful.

Sometime I relive college wresting matches in painstaking detail. I shoot – take the opponents leg – circle, circle, circle – head in leg, finish the takedown!

Other times I walk through scenarios at work or home. How to treat my family better. How to be successful at work. Always in great detail. I visualize body movements, voice inflection, outcomes, and various alternatives. I see myself sitting behind a desk at work. Moving my arms confidently as I discuss a project. Remember to smile. Listen, head nod, courtesy.

Sometimes I think about my death bed too, but not because I’m afraid of dying. Because I want to be at peace with death when I get there. By thinking about my death bed I’m really contemplating life.

I see myself lying back with oxygen running to my nose. There is always natural sunlight hitting my face because my bed is near a window. In my vision I know my family is there, but I always focus on my face as if I am a camera man staring from the foot of the bed. Maybe the view a small grandchild would have.

In my final moments I close my eyes and smile. I smile.

Two phrases have become quite important to me over the years:

1. On my death bed I want to close my eyes and smile knowing that I have given life everything I have.

2. We are given one life, one chance, we should live that way.

Neither of these ideas are unique or original, but I take them seriously as part of my vision of life and death. Instead of being a cliche’ quote I’ve consciously tried to put these ideas into action. I can’t tell you how many trips I’ve booked immediately following a long run. Or how many times I’ve come home and been a better father or husband.

For me, very little happens by accident. Most things I have been truly successful with have come from hours of deep thought and mental preparation. Long runs or laying in bed at night – just thinking. Then taking those thoughts and putting them to action.

You are given one life, so you should live that way.